A good night's sleep is an essential part of your child's health. A bedtime routine builds good, lasting sleep habits. It also helps build a strong relationship between you and your child.
It's important that your child's bedtime routine is consistent. Do it the same way at roughly the same time each night. The same steps should be followed by everyone caring for your child.
Newborn babies are too young to follow strict routines. Some babies sleep for long periods, others for a short time. Newborn babies don't know the difference between day and night.
Make sure you follow safe sleep advice to help reduce the risk of cot death (sudden infant death syndrome)
Babies aged 3 to 6 months
Between 3 to 6 months, your baby is starting to identify the difference between day and night. A bedtime routine can help show your baby that sleep time is approaching.
Introduce a bedtime routine at around 3 months of age.
The routine might take about 30 to 45 minutes.
The amount of sleep your baby needs may change over the first 6 months. All children are different.
- Feed your baby after a bath or after you change them into sleeping clothes.
- Wait half an hour after feeding before putting them to bed. This is to avoid your baby linking feeding to going to sleep.
- Use a dim night light, so as not to overstimulate your baby.
- Do not talk loudly as it may encourage your baby to stay awake.
- Place your baby into the cot drowsy but awake so that they fall asleep where they will be waking up. They usually fall into a deep sleep within 5 minutes.
- Avoid changing your baby's nappy during sleep time unless it is dirty or very wet.
Cot mobiles, music and light-up toys
Avoid music, mobiles or light-up and electronic toys in or near the cot. They might disrupt sleep during the night.
If you have a mobile above the cot, phase it out by the time your baby is 5 months old.
Children aged 6 months to 2 years
Your older baby or toddler will thrive if you have a regular bedtime routine. They should go to sleep and get up around the same time each day.
Make going to bed as predictable as possible. Where possible, share bedtimes and storytelling between parents.
To help your child sleep:
- get them out in daylight early in the day (to help them make the sleep hormone, melatonin)
- avoid exciting activities such as playing outside and running around just before bedtime.
- avoid large meals or sugary snacks and drinks before bedtime
- give your child a supper of carbohydrates like bread, rice or cereals with milk. Carbohydrates help release melatonin
- have quiet time 1 hour before bedtime. Use dim lights, speak in a low voice and avoid screens like a TV, tablet or phone
- brush their teeth and change their nappy
- read them a short bedtime story - this helps your child relax
- place babies in the cot or bed drowsy but awake - it reassures them if they wake up where they fell asleep. Toddlers don't need to be drowsy going to bed
- let them have a comfort toy like a teddy or blanket in the cot from 12 months of age. Make sure it's clean and not a strangulation or choking hazard
- do not give them a bottle to have in bed. This can be a choking risk and might develop into a sleep association
- avoid toys with music or lights. This includes mobiles above their cot or bed
- consider phasing out parent sleep associations if it's becoming a problem for you. For example, rocking your child to sleep. They may need you to do this to help them fall back asleep when they wake during the night. Continue to resettle and soothe them if they wake up crying
- leave a dim night light on so that they do not feel upset if they wake up in the dark. Or you can leave the hall light on with the bedroom door slightly open
- leave their bedroom door open so that they can hear soothing and familiar noises
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE